Amelia Ash (John England/The East)

Amy Ash And The Photos Of Your Long Lost Cousins

Amy Ash may have left New Brunswick two years ago for the bustle of London, but the Hampton born artist took a part of the province with her. Her work has been comprised of paint, and thread, and old bits of paper; a magpie’s collage spread across all manner of mediums, but central to much of her recent work has been the people of New Brunswick in the form of their lost and discarded photographs. “I have such a soft spot for [photo albums]. They took up a large part of my luggage to London. It’s ridiculous, but I now have all these New Brunswick faces of people I don’t even know. I know it’s weird, but I can’t help myself. I’ve kind of displaced them along with myself.”

(Courtesy of Amelia Ash)
(Courtesy of Amy Ash)

She began collecting the photographs from second hand shops, and flea markets as early as 2007, perhaps intended only as mere curiosities, but the artist in her eventually overcame that. “It happened very slowly. I spent years collecting photographs and other old, often tattered objects, that seemed rich in personal history and mythologies, without any real plans for them. I just really wanted to have them and explore them.” Initially, she showed some apprehension towards working with the former keepsakes, somehow made precious by the inherent value of both their age and displaced sentimentality. Old things aren’t made every day, after all, but the windfall acquisition of a box of negatives has somewhat abated the onus of posterity, “I would make work from them, never using the original. For a while, I battled with whether it was ok to work with the object itself, and had to question my own attachment.”

“I think about what a shame it is for them to sit in a box somewhere–not really being valued at all.”

“They’re so loaded with story, references to time and place, identity, and the passing of time. I find it fascinating that they’ve all been abandoned; that somebody decided that they weren’t worth keeping.” It was that sense of sentimentality that won out, evoking the shared experience as art. Shadows of commonplace scenes, lifestyles and traditions, that hover just on the edge of recognition, become tied, literally tied, into our present world. Saint John Art Centre gallery curator Christiana Myers describes Amy’s recent installation, ‘Rewriting The Almanac’, “The piece reads as a threadbare family quilt, inviting viewers to stitch together their own narrative.” Ash says, “It’s about navigating the value of things; I’m interested in why people attach a certain value to one thing, but not another— especially when it’s a bit ambiguous, like sentimental value, or cultural value. I’m also interested in authenticity and stretching the boundaries of shared experience; how far removed can you be from something, but still find a connection or something to relate to? I’m not really trying to convey a specific message—I’m just trying to offer an experience, and explore my interests.”

 Ordinary Monuments 1 (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Ordinary Monuments 1 (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Time Of Our Life, STUboys (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Time Of Our Life, STUboys (Courtesy of Amy Ash)

Of course the inevitable happened; an inexplicable and serendipitous series of events that led one misplaced family photo album on a journey, and back into the hands of a close friend two generations later. “I had been working with an album, which I got from the Second’s Shop on Union Street, for months. I had really connected with the images and the detailed writing on the backs of the images. Anyhow, a very close friend and I were chatting, and she mentioned her grandmother’s name—which I recognised from the album. It turned out that I had her grandmother’s photo album.” It’s the sort of connection an artist would hope for, taken to a degree that could only happen in a province like New Brunswick, “It was so bizarre. Of course I happily returned the album. It was just kind of creepy, in a wonderful way.”

Her contribution to the Saint John Art Centre’s exhibit, Working Title, features a tapestry of loosely woven photographs from one of New Brunswick’s fox farms. It feels as not so much a departure, as an extrapolation of her earlier work. Stark, almost business-like, it is perhaps a maturation of the colourful, whimsy-filled, portrayals of (mis)adventurous children, but suited to its purpose, “It is a project curated by Christiana Myers, which explores the relationship between industry and contemporary New Brunswick artists. I’m really pleased to be a part of it, and included among the list of artists Christina has selected.” An all-too-familiar story among New Brunswickers, is that theme of voluntary displacement, something that has influenced Amy directly, “[It] touches on this history of leaving New Brunswick to find work, as so many do, or even the isolation within specific industries which are specific to NB (forestry, fishing, farming etc.). So many people spend a few months or years working, romanticising ‘home’. Of course, I am someone who has followed a similar trajectory, but for a completely different industry. And I’ll be back one day, too.”

Every Cat Plays Favourites (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Every Cat Plays Favourites (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Tricks ( Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Tricks ( Courtesy of Amy Ash)

 “I love it here. It’s home, but somehow I am also homesick frequently. It’s a funny place to be, where I feel like I’ve got one foot here, and one foot on the east coast of Canada.”

Amy is currently working as the Learning and Participation Curator at Gerald Moore Gallery in South East London’s Eltham College, where she’s managed to import just a little more of Canada along with her. “It is a small but very active centre for contemporary arts and learning. It’s all non-commercial, and very experimental in its approach to learning, exhibitions, and the whole program. I’m curating an exhibition there for March, I’ve got a lot of Canadian artists participating in that. It’s been a really nice bridge because to work with Canadian artists I admire. I don’t want to disconnect myself from that community.”

To see more of what Amy is working on, without the need for a plane ticket, visit the Saint John Art Centre to see ‘Rewriting The Alamanac’ as part of the exhibit ‘Working Title’ between January 16th and March 6th, visit Tuck Studio where a number of her pieces are available for purchase. Check out her website, and facebook page.

The Flood (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
The Flood (Courtesy of Amy Ash)
Amelia Ash (John England/The East)
Amy Ash (John England/The East)

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